The Waymo-Uber trial that’s been making the headlines for nearly a year before coming to an abrupt end on Friday was “like something out of a Tom Clancy novel,” said Dorsey & Whitney partner J. Michael Keyes, an attorney specializing in intellectual property law over which the two companies have been clashing since early 2017. While a mid-trial settlement like the one Waymo and Uber reached yesterday isn’t unprecedented, settling so shortly after the trial started is not “the typical scenario” in such cases, according to Mr. Keyes. Once a year of court preparations leads to an actual trial, both sides generally believe they can convince the jury in their arguments, the expert says, without speculating what could have “altered that calculus” so shortly after Uber and Waymo started examining witnesses in the court of law.
Mr. Keyes also reflected on the official apology issued by Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi who said some things about the controversial Otto acquisition from 2016 should have been done differently, describing that notion as “the understatement of 2018.” The self-driving truck startup purchased by Uber for nearly $600 million was founded by one Anthony Levandowski who was previously employed at Google’s autonomous driving unit before the thereof was spun off into Waymo and who was alleged to have stolen thousands of sensitive documents containing trade secrets that were later used to improve Uber’s own technologies. Mr. Keyes interprets Uber CEO’s statement as an admission that the company should have conducted its due diligence in a much more serious manner. Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick on Tuesday testified that he signed off on the acquisition without even reading some of the reports raising questions about the manner in which Mr. Levandowski left Google before establishing Otto, warning of potential legal issues down the road.
Both tech juggernauts and small startups must be careful they don’t hire “tainted” employees whose sole presence could be the basis for accusing their businesses of misappropriation, Mr. Keyes warns, recommending all such companies to practice “extreme vetting” when looking for top-level talent. Uber settled the case with Waymo with an equity payment amounting to approximately $245 million and agreed to collaborate with Alphabet’s subsidiary in order to ensure it isn’t misappropriating any of its technologies going forward. Waymo’s allegations are still being independently investigated by the DOJ whose probe started last May, though it’s presently unclear whether the federal agency is close to filing criminal charges.